Two years living in Mongolia’s capital city flew by remarkably quickly. My bicycling adventures ground to near total halt in the world’s coldest (and most polluted) capital, but there were other fascinating adventures.
Here’s the flyer for my photography exhibit earlier this year, which was my homage to the wonderful country.
Mongolia: Urban + Rural and spaces in between.
I’ll update this page once I get around to making the full photography exhibit viewable online and provide a link.
This year’s Naadam was a hot one. 90+ degrees. Full sun. After the opening ceremony we went outside to the concession areas surrounding the National Stadium. One shady spot served khuusuur and another airag. Airag (fermented horse milk) is actually super refreshing on hot days like this — and mildly alcoholic!
Spring has sprung in the world’s coldest capital!
It was a beautiful day spent exploring the bicycle road bordering Ulaanbaatar’s new National Park just south of the city. This young Mongolian boy is checking me out while his father tries to unstick his bicycle chain, which had jammed between the rear hub and the dropouts.
In the far background you can see parts of Bogd Khan Uul national park, which is the oldest national park in the world. It predates Yellowstone by over 100 years. The peak is over 7400 feet in elevation.
When you go to a foreign country you often see unusual car models zipping around that don’t exist in the US…well, the same thing is true for unusual models of bicycles.
The bicycle above is a great example of a morphology that I’ve never encountered in the US., but it is fairly typical of what you see on the streets of Kyoto.
What stands out to me about this bike:
- small wheel diameter
- dual front and rear racks and baskets
- rain covers for the seat and rear basket
- large kickstand to support the bike when loaded
- high handlebars allowing for a comfortable, upright riding position
- fenders and chain guard
- an umbrella holder!
In a utilitarian sort of way, I find it quite a beautiful little machine.
This poster led me to Kahitsukan, the Kyoto Museum of Contemporary Art, and a Robert Doisneau exhibit. Doisneau was a street photographer in Paris around the same time as Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Question: Does the fact that Doisneau staged this image change how you look or feel about it?
What an awesome city to travel by bicycle. I rented a bike from my hotel and had no trouble getting wherever I needed to go — coffee, ramen and sushi shops, Uniqlo, museums, gardens, and the famous Cycles Grand Bois.
More pictures to come.
Here’s the view from the alleyway near Veranda restaurant looking east. The juxtaposition of the old temple and the modern, glass Blue Sky building is a bit cliche. Plus, this framing creates an overly stylized (and romanticized) depiction of the city’s grimy and chaotic urban transformation.
Still, the truth is there always seems to be some new structure under construction in Ulaanbaatar. And this time of year there’s a big rush to get as much work done as possible before the bitterly cold (-40 degree) winter weather sets in and outdoor building becomes impossible.
Possibly due to this haste, the nearly completed, $500 million Shangrai-la Hotel, recently suffered a major inferno just as the finishing touches were being applied.
Thankfully, no one was hurt.
The statue seen above is on the east side of the palace, but I can never remember if this is Ogiidei or Kublai.
I wonder what Chinggis would think about the city dwelling youth of Mongolia today.
The massive square in downtown Ulaanbaatar was re-named Chinggis Khaan Square, but like many other people I’m still in the habit of calling it Sukhbaatar Square. One local said to me, “We don’t have to name every place after Chinggis Khaan. There are other important people in Mongolian history“.
The square needs to be broken up and softened with trees and other organic design elements, in my opinion. The Brutalist, Stalinist-style architecture is cold and uninviting. And why, in Mongolia of all places, does the central square so thoroughly seek to obliterate any relationship to the beauty of the natural landscape?
But as with so many things, beauty and ugliness are two-sides of the same coin.
Walking through the space, it is easy to become disconnected from your surroundings and fellow citizens — and maybe this was the goal of communist architecture. The weight of the nation state feels heavy on one’s psyche…and a feeling (bordering on melancholy) arises upon the realization that mankind’s desire to produce something grand and transcendent has fallen short.
Yet there are other times I walk this square and its Cartesian vectors, carved from the dense and chaotic urban environment of Ulaanbaatar (itself carved from the eurasian steppe’s montane grassland and scrubland ecozone), place the human mind, and it’s role in the evolution of the universe, into sharp resolution.
And for that I am grateful.
By Forest Sun Schumacher
I took this photo of Ingrid Serban biking through Samuel P. Taylor park in West Marin. Shot with my iPhone 5gs. Drove to the park with the bikes on the rack. A mellow afternoon ride on Cross Marin Trail. Cruising through the redwoods along Lagunitas Creek. The road is flat most of the way and only about 8 miles round trip, so the ride goes by fast but leaves you feeling satisfied. No traffic and hardly any one else on the trail. Love it! Many of my fondest memories in life are on a bicycle.
If you ever find yourself in Hatgal, Mongolia — New Roots Cafe is the place to go for espresso drinks.
Seeing the Italian Mazzer grinder, I knew I stumbled into the right place.
The barista took her sweet time grinding and tamping the beans, pulling the shot, and heating and pouring the milk — which made for a lovely cappuccino.
Next visit, I hope to have time for a full breakfast here.
I found a warm, cozy spot (away from the rain) for some spicy Korean soup in this little maze of small streets and alley ways.
A couple more examples of Seoul’s pedestrian-friendly (and green) urban design:
Dual direction pedestrian crosswalks.
Oversized sidewalk-tree planter boxes (allowing water to soak the soil around the complete drip line of the tree’s canopy).
Seoul is so full of energy and life — it is a fantastic city!
I stayed less than 24 hours, and it rained most of the time, but I really enjoyed it here. I took an early morning walk around the city center, on a long loop that took me from The Plaza Hotel to Gyeongbokgung Palace and back.
In the city center, I didn’t see many bicyclists or much bicycling infrastructure. The one or two cyclists I saw, like the man below, rode on the large pedestrian sidewalks.
Most impressive is how the city center is brimming with greenery and arboriculture. American cities could learn a lot about bringing bits of biodiversity into the city from the urban planners in Seoul.
The photograph at the top of the page and those below are good examples:
Staying out in Marshall, CA for a few nights afforded me the opportunity to try an epic Marin loop ride with two notorious hill climbs — the Marshall Wall and Wilson’s Hill. I really didn’t know what to expect; I don’t have many miles in the saddle this summer.
Here’s my impressionistic account of this classic 36-mile Marin ride:
Gear, clothing, and food: wool knickers, merino wool t-shirt, wool ankle socks, bata bikers, TA handlebar bag, basic tool kit, spare tire, single water bottle, small bag of trail mix, one apple, two sticks of string cheese.
Miles 0-3, Marshall Petaluma Rd. heading east: What am I doing? I’m not ready for this. The climb starts so quick! Where’s the friggin’ bike shoulder? Some rancher in a pick-up truck is going to plow into me from behind on a blind curve. Wait a minute, I actually feel good. There’s no one out here but me! I’m standing up on the pedals. I feel strong. F**k yeah. Take that Marshall Wall. Boom! 750 feet of climbing in 3 miles. This ride is going to be a breeze!
Mile 4-10, Descending the Marshall Wall and beyond: A super steep 2-mile descent on pot-holed roads. Should be interesting. Wait! My guardian angel whispered something into my ear. Stop the bike. Check the brake and front tire. What? The front brake was disengaged! The front wheel’s quick release skewer was not set! Holy sh*t that was close. One bump and off comes the front wheel going 30 mph on a steep descent. Thank you Guradian Angel. Thank you!
Mile 11-13, Wilson’s Hill: Ok the second big climb of the day. I’m sure glad all this climbing is early in the ride. Wow that looks steep. I’m talking SF real estate prices steep. 10% grade at the top. Alpe d’Huez averages only 8.1. But Ok, this is going fine. Going good. Real good! No, it’s actually going quite badly now. This is very, very bad. How is it even physically possible for my tire to adhere to the road at this angle? Why is the asphalt not rolling off the road’s sub-surface and piling in a clump at the bottom of the hill? Why is darkness closing in around me? Who needs food, shelter, love? Hierarchy of needs dammit! All I need is to get to the top of this darn hill.
Mile 14-22, Chileno Valley Rd: How I love thee, Chileno Valley Road. Almost no cars. Perfect weather. No wind. Flat or very gently rolling roads. Scenery. Oh the scenery. A hidden gem of a bicycling road!
Mile 23-31, Tomales-Petaluma Rd: Did I make a wrong turn? Why am I going north? I’m getting tired. The wind seems to be picking up. That’s a mighty strong headwind. Hmmm. I hope it’s not much further. I’m not really hungry, but ‘eat before you’re hungry, drink before you’re thirsty,’ is the bicyclist’s motto. I’ll eat half a stick of string cheese. Oh my god, this headwind is brutal. It’s some kind of pacific ocean el nino tornado vortex. Why is CNN not covering this? Anderson? Anderson? Am I hallucinating or am I really in my 42×28 hill climbing gear riding on a flat road? I’m really sad now. Maintaining radio silence. Energy levels dropping.
Mile 32-36, Shoreline Highway, Hwy 1: Food! I have food! Glorious food. No time to stop and eat. Just eat from the handlebar bag like it’s a trough. One hand on the bars, the other hand feeds the mouth. Bag of nuts. Done. Remaining string cheese. Done. Apple. Done. No! Not more rolling hills. Good god, these are steep. I thought this stretch was supposed to be flat. These are huge rollers. Up 150 feet. Down 150 feet. Rinse. Repeat. Legs burning. Yikes. Please be the last hill. Yes! Close to home. That’s Hog Island up ahead! Tomales Bay swim, hot tub, fresh oysters, and local ground-beef grilled hamburgers await!
I’ve been hanging out in CA at my brother’s place with my little nephews. We’ve been making the rounds around town with the boys in his Phil and Ted’s double stroller.
It’s a big investment, but I’ve almost convinced him to consider purchasing a Bakfeit (with an electric assist to help get up the long hill to the house) as an alternative to the stroller.
The Bakfeit is pricey. It’s best to think of it as a car replacement to justify the $3000 cost.
Wow it’s been four years since I posted this other Memorial Day image. It’s one of my favorites, but as is typical with the “Random Images” category, it’s just a pleasing photo with nothing to do with bicycles.
Bata Bikers are to classic, steel-framed, bike-loving cyclotourists:
+ what the Cape Buffalo is to Hemingway;
+ what the Grail is to the Arthurian knights;
+ what his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal (and the Taj Mahal) is to Emperor Shah Jahan.
That is: Part obsession. Part devotion. Part unrequited longing.
Well…the elusive Bata Biker has finally arrived at The Friday Cyclotouriste world headquarters.
According to the analytics of this site, my posts on bicycling shoes are all in the top 10 of the most searched and the most viewed. In my first of these posts I mentioned the fabled Bata Biker shoe.
My most recent cycling shoe discovery was the ASICS Keirin, which I wrote about here.
Still, the classic Batas seemed like a perfect low-profile, lightweight, canvas bike touring shoe with semi-rigid soles for either flat pedals or pedals with toe-clips.
Yet they are impossible to find — anywhere. Bata ceased production sometime in the early 80s, I think.
Given this, when I recently saw a pair of unworn Bata Biker factory seconds in my size on eBay, I scooped them up.
Steps from Cady’s Alley and a little pocket park named after Francis Scott Key, there’s access to the C & O canal bike path.
The picture above is the view east standing on the pedestrian bridge connecting the two sides. Below is the view toward the west.
The C & O towpath is a 184 mile trail connecting DC to Cumberland, MD. The towpath is one and the same as the Capital Crescent Trail (CCT) for the first few miles. Then the CCT veers east toward Silver Spring, MD.
I want to explore these bike ways while I’m still here!
Wherever I go alleys draw me in. I’m not talking about creepy, dirty alleys.
No, the visceral appeal of certain alleys or small streets comes from their aesthetically correct, pedestrian-friendly, human-scale. The lack of powerful gasoline motors constantly churning is a big part of it.
Cady’s Alley is a little street in DC that I love from an architectural and urban design perspective. The emphasis is because I’m not sure how I feel about it from a community development perspective.
The space feels geared to a very exclusive, corporate, brand name, retail shopping experience. Urban revitalization and planning can expose many thorny issues relating to social equity and civic participation. So I want to be clear that what I’m singling out for praise about Cady’s Alley is something very particular: the actual feeling of the physical space.
In short, if we compare the feeling of Cady’s Alley to that of M Street (running parallel one block away) it passes the Mirror-of-the-Self Test outlined by the visionary architect, Christopher Alexander in his book The Phenomenon of Life:
“Comparing A and B, which one makes me feel the most wholeness in myself, which allows me to come closest to my own life, which makes me experience life most deeply?”. That is, when architecture is functioning properly “its space is awakened to a very high degree. It becomes alive. The space itself becomes alive.”
Note: DC recently released a comprehensive survey that maps all the historic alley ways in the city. Click on The DC Historic Alley Buildings Survey if you’re curious.
Everyone is eager to call the peak, or predict the peak, or declare they saw the Cherry Blossoms at their peak. It doesn’t matter if you are in Washington DC or in Japan — it’s the same.
I’m in no position to do any of these things because I have a hard time recognizing the difference between a cherry blossom and a plum blossom.
(editor’s note: I wrote about Ume and Sakura — the Japanese words for plum and cherry trees — in San Francisco’s Golden Gate park awhile back.)
However, about a week to a week and a half ago the weather was in the high 60s low 70s in northern VA. Now, I’m a bit hesitant to make the call but…I swear the cherry blossoms were at their peak!
I was riding my bike to work all week. Even though I was running late on this particular day, the landscape was so compellingly beautiful I stopped to make these pictures.
Below are some close-ups of the blossoms and the petals. Because of the small notches at the top of the individual petals, I believe these are, indeed, cherry blossoms.
Can any of my botanically-minded friends help me out here?
Finally, here is a map that I think shows the 2014 forecast for Sakura, including when and where they are blossoming across Japan’s different climate zones.
It looks like until May 10th there’s still time to see Sakura in the far north around Hokkaido.
Desire is too strong.
Three objects of admiration is maybe more accurate.
Really, this is just some cool stuff that caught my eye this week — stuff I’ll probably never own — but stuff with clever design and craftsmanship that’s fun to appreciate.
First of all a gorgeous bicycle rack and shelving unit made of natural wood and copper water piping:
See Method Studio for more details.
Next is the latest camera system from Leica — the T:
Leica prices are somewhat out of control. The cheapest lens for the new T system is the $1,800 18–56mm ƒ/3.5–5.6. See the dedicated Leica T site for more details.
Finally, a sleek, lightweight teardrop trailer with an expandable pop-top — the Alto R series:
I’m not sure which is better this or the trailer designed by the NASA engineer I wrote about a few years ago. For more information about the Alto pop-top check out the manufacturer’s website.
This is a cool, little street of row houses a block from the train tracks leading into Union Station in NE Washington. There’s a Greenwich Village/Brooklyn feel to this block. I get the sense artsy, bohemian-types are moving into these parts possibly causing a bit of friction in the neighborhood.
There could even be rooftop vegetable gardens, urban bee hives, and maybe even a few chicken coops (not sure if that’s legal in DC) in the vicinity.
There was this handsome Trek mixte, with front and rear racks and a wicker errand basket.
Judging by all the evidence, I can only conclude that I must have stumbled into Hipster territory.
Lest I forget — there’s an amazing punjabi Indian restaurant right around the corner.
The pictures were made along some of the bike trails around Arlington and Falls Church, VA.
(sketch made with Paper53 app on iPad)
My ebisu, like a greyhound straining at the start, yearns to run free.
But instead she sits in an apartment, leaning up against the wall, gathering dust, through the long, cold winter — while I ignore her.
She whispers to me: why don’t we go out exploring the way we once did?
I change the subject. Or pretend not to hear.
I have many, oh so many reasons (read excuses), why it cannot be. Through it all she doesn’t complain. But her disappointment is palpable. And for that I cannot blame her.
I think one day it will be different. So I say, “one day it will be as it once was”. She is cheered by the news. But I know it is a lie, not in the spirit behind the words, but in the actual words.
For there is no such thing as: it being as it once was.
And although we cannot go back to how it once was, we must always know there will be new springs, new summers. And that yes, one day, this long dark winter will cease.
The sun will rise high overhead. The ice will melt. New life — tindered with joy and longing — will tremble, cry out, and reach up to embrace the very apex of the universe.
And together we will have new experiences that we never could have imagined.
The vibrant color of this bike really stood out on this warm, sunny day — it was such a contrast to the monochromatic winter conditions that have been enveloping the east coast for the last few months.
I really wanted to see who was riding this fancy bike. Who rides such a thing around downtown DC? She, I’m assuming it’s a she, was carrying a rugged shiny silver, U-lock, but trusting enough (or in too much of a hurry?) to not use it, in this case.
Regardless, the bike was gone 5 minutes after I spotted it.
And I never did meet its fancy owner.
The DMV region has a truly excellent network of dedicated bike paths, particularly Arlington.
Thank goodness. Because driving an automobile around the Northern Virginia suburbs reminds me of one of Dante Alighieri‘s hell realms.
But hidden in plain sight is a surprisingly robust matrix of bike lanes and pathways.
From Arlington to Falls Church (including the Metro stops from Rosalyn to West Falls Church) it is quite convenient to go by bicycle from point A to point B.
Many of the paths — like the Curtis Trail shown in these images — traverse wooded areas that are only yards from utterly congested roadways such as Interstate 66.
Above a pair of ducks are enjoying a hidden pond.
The paths are heavily used. In fact, they are busier than most bike paths and lanes I traveled on in California.
Another big part of this region’s bicycling culture is the Capital Bikeshare system.
DC can boast that it had a bike share system in place before New York City and San Francisco. And I can boast that I once worked with the transportation design and planning firm (Alta Planning/Alta Bicycle Share) that built DC’s system.
To check out some of my earlier blog posts on Capital Bikeshare click here.
The DC, Maryland, and Virgina (DMV) region has a pretty robust bicycling culture from what I’ve witnessed.
Urban planners have converted the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue into a rather complex set of bicycle lanes.
The view above is looking east toward the Capitol. The image below is looking west.
En route, this old Schwinn with a vintage Brooks saddle caught my eye. The saddle is disintegrating, but still serving its intended purpose — carrying its rider along life’s unfolding, luminous path.
This tree — conveniently used as a bike rack — is in the parking lot behind the giant Vietnamese shopping mall known as the Eden Center. (See below for a view of the front of the mall right before an early evening thunderstorm.)
And if you haven’t noticed, the front wheel you’re looking at in the picture above is super dreamy:
- 700c x 32mm Grand Bois extra leger tires
- wide body SON delux Schmidt front generator hub
- PL23 Pacenti rims
- Velo Orange porteur rack
- Velo Orange 45mm hammered fenders
After a bit of a hiatus, The Friday Cyclotouriste has settled into new digs on the east coast — northern VA-Washington DC to be specific.
I can’t wait to begin commuting on this new Porteur-style bike that I brought with me from the San Francisco Bay Area and to seek out all the awesome rides and bike paths that exist in the area.
I really like Bay Area Bikes.
And did I mention they are a Brompton dealer.
The staff is friendly and they have a good selection of practical gear like this assortment of metal racks and wicker baskets.
I’ve been coveting a Bern commuting helmet for some time. It wasn’t to be, however. Not this time at least.
I recently tagged along with a friend on a visit to Bay Area Bikes in Oakland so she could make some adjustments to her Brompton.
It seems a little crazy to spend $8-$9 for a dozen eggs, but fresh eggs are one of the things that I’m willing to splurge on.
A carton lasts me a week and I just love the dark, golden yolks. And I swear fresh, old fashioned, eggs really do taste much, much better than mass produced factory eggs.
So noticing this place (the Wooly Egg Ranch) on my ride back from the ocean was a revelation since it’s not too far from where I live.